Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the recently elected chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party.
(photo credit: BAYIT YEHUDI)
Bayit Yehudi is now proudly legitimizing what was once beyond the pale in Israeli politics.
In aligning itself with Otzma Yehudit, a band of extremists who preach violence and vengeance, racism and xenophobia, Bayit Yehudi has ceased being a Zionist or religious party.
In 1956, Zionist religious Jews established the National Religious Party (Mafdal), which stood for fidelity to Torah, Jewish law and membership in God’s covenant with the Jewish people.
It also championed the democratic State of Israel. For decades, Mafdal was a paradigm of political moderation, responsible pragmatism and ethical integrity. Because it was committed to moral values over brute force, it voted to investigate the IDF’s indirect role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon.
Those times have ended, and not just because Mafdal was dissolved in 2008.
According to the Torah, God made a covenant with Jewish people, challenging it to “be a blessing to the families of the earth”, “a holy nation” and “a light unto the nations.” Religious Jews who believe in God’s covenant wear a kippa as a symbol that they are ever conscious of this responsibility to the God of Israel.
The Torah also insists that the same God created all people in the divine image, which demands respect for the sanctity and dignity of all human beings. The sages of the Talmud extended these values, ruling in Mishna Sanhedrin that all people are equal: “No one can say, ‘My father is greater than yours’”, and obligating religious Jews to make room for, sustain and protect the non-Jews in their society. They composed an entire tractate of the Talmud, “Gerim”, to plumb Jewish religious responsibilities to the strangers in our midst. Seventy years ago, Israel’s founding fathers enshrined these Jewish values of human dignity and equality in the county’s Declaration of Independence.
Otzma Yehudit’s leaders are self-declared disciples of the late Meir Kahane. Itamar Ben Gvir told Ynet news his faction’s ideology is “identical” to Kahane’s. The party name, “Jewish Power’, indicates it is hardly different from Kahane’s party, “Kach” (“Take!”).
In 1988, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the Knesset decision to ban Kach because it incited violence. Israel’s high court also found Kahane’s party to be racist and undemocratic, outlawing it in 1994 under Israel’s anti-terrorism laws. As a reincarnation of Kach, Otzma Yehudit’s platform calls for extending Israeli sovereignty throughout the territories captured by Israel in 1967 and “encouraging” the removal non-Jews from greater Israel.
This toxic force is directed not only at Arabs. Decades ago I attended a rally where Kahane told Jews who objected to his rantings, “After we finish off the Arabs, we take care of you!” Faithful to his mentor, in 1995 Ben Gvir proudly held up the emblem that he ripped off prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Cadillac.
“Just as we got to this symbol, we can get to Rabin,” he announced, weeks before Rabin’s was murdered. Ben Gvir now holds the eighth spot on Bayit Yehudi’s party list. Another Otzma Yehudit leader, Bentzi Gopstein, is currently facing charges of incitement to violence, racism and terrorism.
These are the twisted ideals and perverted ideology that Bayit Yehudi supports today. Instead of striving to be a blessing to the gentile nations, it now spews venom against non-Jews. Instead of striving to be a holy nation, it idolizes naked power. Instead of light, it advocates humiliation, injustice and expulsion.
What was once dedication to noble religious and national ideals has degenerated into ugly chauvinism. In place of the covenant with God, Bayit Yehudi has made a pact with the devil.
If Bayit Yehudi continues this unholy alliance, it should be honest.
It should stay far from any pretense of allegiance to the Zionist dream of an enlightened Jewish democracy. It should drop mention of “Jewish” from its name, and its members should remove their kippot and tzitziot, since they have abandoned God’s covenant with the Jewish people.
In its lust for political power, Bayit Yehudi has spurned its spiritual birthright.
No matter how many rituals its members observe, no matter how “religious” they dress, and no matter how many “rabbis” represent the party, Bayit Yehudi has sold its Zionist and religious values for a mess of political porridge. It has now entered a pagan temple, joining those who prostrate themselves before race and violence, and who sacrifice justice and mercy on the altar of Ba’al.Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is the former academic director of Jerusalem’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. He resides in Jerusalem.
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